National identity harmonised standard

Policy details

Metadata item Details
Publication date:28 April 2021
Author:GSS Harmonisation Team
Approver:Sofi Nickson
Who this is for:Producers and users of statistics
Type:Harmonisation standards and guidance
Contact:GSSHelp@statistics.gov.uk

What we mean by harmonisation

Harmonisation is the process of making statistics and data more comparable, consistent, and coherent. Harmonised standards set out how to collect and report statistics to make sure they can be compared effectively across different data collections in the Government Statistical Service (GSS). Harmonisation produces more useful statistics that give users a greater level of understanding about a topic.

What we mean by national identity

National identity is a measure of self-identity. This is because each person will have a different idea about the concept and meaning of ‘national identity’. A question on national identity allows a person to express a preference about which country, countries, nation, or nations they feel most connected to.

There has been an increasing interest in ‘national’ consciousness with many people wanting their national identity to be acknowledged. Because of this, a recommended harmonised ‘national identity’ question has been developed for use on social surveys. The answers to the question will give some insight into how a person thinks about their identity.

Questions and response options: inputs

The harmonised questions on this topic are designed to collect basic information. They can be used in most surveys. They are not designed to replace questions used in specialist surveys where more detailed analysis is needed.

Recommended orders of categories for single UK presentation and nation specific response options

If your priority is being able to compare data across the country rather than being able to compare data with certain census questions, we would recommend using categories for a single UK question.

For response categories for Northern Ireland, an Irish category should be located between the ‘British’ and ‘Other’ categories. The National Identity question should be asked in a way that no-one from Northern Ireland should be forced to choose between being British, Irish and Northern Irish to comply with the Good Friday Agreement.

The order of the categories depends on where in the UK the question is being asked.

Question stem

The question stem for each country is: ‘How would you describe your national identity? Please choose all that apply.’

England

If the question is asked in England the response options should be:

  • British
  • English
  • Welsh
  • Scottish
  • Northern Irish
  • Other, please describe

Wales

If the question is asked in Wales the response options should be:

  • Welsh
  • English
  • Scottish
  • Northern Irish
  • British
  • Other, please describe

Scotland

If the question is asked in Scotland the response options should be:

  • Scottish
  • English
  • Northern Irish
  • Welsh
  • British
  • Other, please describe

Northern Ireland

If the question is asked in Northern Ireland the response options should be:

  • British
  • Irish
  • Northern Irish
  • English
  • Scottish
  • Welsh
  • Other, please describe

Recommended orders of categories for single UK presentation and single response options

It is best practice to offer customised response options for different nations. But it is not always possible to do this. If you are not able to offer customised response options, we recommend using the single presentation, single response options version of the question.

Question stem

The question stem is ‘How would you describe your national identity? Please choose all that apply.’

Response options

The response options are:

  • British
  • English
  • Scottish
  • Welsh
  • Northern Irish
  • Irish
  • Other, please describe

Interviewer guidance

If the respondent does not understand the term ‘national identity’, you should explain that it is whatever it means to them. You should explain this by saying “Your national identity could be the country or countries where you feel you belong or think of as home. It is not dependent on your ethnic group or citizenship.”

You may be interviewing someone who is answering on behalf of someone else. You can give them guidance on how to answer by saying “If you are answering on behalf of someone else, where possible you should ask them how they want to answer. If they are away, select the answer you think they would choose”.

We want people to be able to express the national identity or identities that make most sense to them. They should be able to choose one national identity if that is how they think of themselves or choose more than one national identity if they prefer. The interviewer should clearly read the instruction “Please choose all that apply”. They should pause to allow respondents enough time to choose multiple answers if they want to.

Showcard

We recommend that you use a showcard in interviewer-led surveys. The showcard should include the instruction “Please choose all that apply”. This instruction should also be read out by the interviewer. The instruction “Please describe” should also be included on the showcard following the ‘Other’ response option. This should not be in a bold font. These instructions should also be included on paper-based surveys. It might not always be possible to use a showcard, for example during telephone interviews.  If you are unable to use a showcard, you should read the response categories in the same order as they appear on the showcard.

Using this standard

This question allows respondents to choose more than one national identity if they think of themselves as having more than one. This is because, like ethnicity, national identity is self-defined. Each person will have different thoughts about how to define their own national identity.

Question placement

Collecting data on cultural identity is complex. This is because the concept of identity is multi-faceted and means something different to everyone.  People’s thoughts about cultural identity tend to change in the context of social and political attitudes or developments.

To allow respondents to properly express their cultural identity, we recommend that the three relevant questions are asked together:

  • national identity
  • ethnic group
  • religion

This provides a more comprehensive understanding of a person’s cultural identity. It will also help us to form a more accurate idea about the population.

We recommend that the topics should be ordered:

  1. national identity
  2. ethnic group
  3. religion

Testing also shows that people consider the ethnic group question to be more acceptable if it is asked after the national identity question. This is because it allows respondents to express their identity as British, English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, or any other option, regardless of their ethnic group.

Types of data collection this standard is suitable for

This harmonised standard is suitable for self-completion modes, like online or paper surveys. It is also suitable for interviewer-led modes, like telephone or face-to-face surveys.

Using this question in the Welsh language

This harmonised standard was designed in the English language. At present we do not provide a Welsh language translation. This is because there is user demand for this standard across the whole of the UK, and we need to test the question in the Welsh language to make sure a translation is comparable and appropriate.

Harmonised standards based on census research have been tested in the Welsh language. This is why we can provide Welsh versions of them. If you are interested in using a Welsh language version of a harmonised standard that has not been translated, please contact us at GSSHelp@statistics.gov.uk.

Presenting and reporting the data: outputs

This section provides guidance for outputting the survey questions to use when collecting information about national identity. Please note, where ‘Irish’ is combined with ‘Other’ you should include a note that explains how the ‘Irish’ category is used in Northern Ireland. Figures should be provided as appropriate.

Presentation for national identity data in England, Wales, and Scotland

National identityData
British[data]
English[data]
Scottish[data]
Welsh[data]
Northern Irish[data]
Other[data]

Presentation for national identity data in Northern Ireland

National identityData
British[data]
English[data]
Scottish[data]
Welsh[data]
Northern Irish[data]
Irish[data]
Other[data]

Comparability

Outputs that use this standard are comparable with other surveys that also use this standard. But we would not recommend comparing statistics about national identity that use this standard with other outputs that use a different measure.

England and Wales Census 2021 and Northern Ireland Census 2021

Harmonised standard question and response options align with Census 2021 to 2022. But this excludes Scotland’s Census 2022 where the question does not match exactly. This version of the national identity question is unique to Scotland’s Census 2011 and 2022 It is not widely used in other surveys.

Scotland’s Census 2022

The current harmonised standard on national identity in Scotland is broadly comparable with the national identity question for the Scotland’s Census 2022.

In the current harmonised standard, the question asked in Scotland is “How would you describe your national identity?”. But the wording of the question in Scotland’s Census is “What do you feel is your national identity?”. This wording is different in Scotland compared to other UK nations because testing before to the 2011 Census showed that the word ‘feel’ helped respondents to understand  the question better.

The decision not to completely align with Scotland’s Census 2022 was made according to the recommendations in the “National identity, ethnic group, language and religion question development for Census 2021”. The recommendations state that a different approach to the questions may be more suitable in different contexts, such as social surveys.

Related harmonised standards

You may find the following resources useful:

Contact

We are always interested in hearing from users so we can develop our work. If you use or produce statistics based on this topic, please contact us at GSSHelp@statistics.gov.uk.

Updates

Date Changes
4 April 2022 The standard was reviewed following the 2021 Census for England and Wales, 2021 Census for Northern Ireland, and 2022 Census for Scotland. This was to align the response option with the options used in the relevant Census for each nation. The order of the response option has been updated for England and Scotland.
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